Pride moments

LOOKING ASKANCE - Atty. Joseph Gonzales (The Freeman) - June 6, 2021 - 12:00am

Much to be proud about this Pride month. Tis the time when we see all our LGBTQ+ allies proclaim their solidarity with the queer community, but after years of pontificating on queer issues, there wasn’t any more impetus for yet another opinion piece at my end. That is, until I started my years-delayed spring cleaning.

Going through files and clippings, and deciding which needed to be dumped (cue class cards and reports of grades), it wasn’t long before the contents of a thin folder were unearthed. It was a letter, from the time I had taught law at the University of San Carlos, and addressed to the Cebu press. Signed by various students and a couple of intrepid lecturers, I perused the names of the petition, and thought -- these names would now constitute a veritable ‘who’s who’ of today’s legal community.

What were they agitating about?

Memory didn’t serve me well. It was a reaction to the incendiary statement of Justice Hilario Aquino at the time he was serving in the Court of Appeals. In a talk on Legal Ethics held in Cebu City nearly 20 years ago, he had quite abruptly dropped the bombshell that, in his august opinion, two lesbians in a relationship would be deemed “unethical” in the legal world.

Pretty soon, a letter was circulating among the law student community of San Carlos. Nearly 50 brave souls signed that position paper, vehemently disagreeing with the Justice, and pointing to international conventions and courts that protect from discrimination against the queer community.

As with things infused with the fervor of youth, the position paper was quickly faxed to various publications in Cebu, and published soon enough.  A courageous stand had been made. Victory for the woke! Pride, there was. 

But that wasn’t the end of the story. A response was elicited. Not from the prejudiced Justice, but from close quarters. A letter signed by then-Dean Corazon Valencia was dispatched to the dailies, and in that letter, Dean Valencia disclaimed any participation by the University from the position paper, dismissively stating that “the letter...cannot be considered the official position of the USC College of Law”.

What a response, huh? At that juncture in 2002, it would have been such a glorious moment if the law school had taken the opportunity to celebrate the initiative of its young students. From those very students I can now see not just respected legal practitioners, but also a congressman, a news anchor, and a diplomat. At the peak of their student life, they had stirred themselves, banded together on an issue of importance, and collectively sent a signal to the community that (regardless of their own sexual preferences), the sexuality of lesbians should not be an issue in determining ethicality.

The law school, as an institution of critical thought, could have lauded these students for aligning themselves with international legal principles, and for demanding for members of the judiciary to stop imposing their personal prejudices. What a precedent. What fine examples of activism and idealism.

That wasn’t what happened though. Instead, the response of the law school was to disaffiliate itself. Wash its hands. Distance itself very far away, with a note that 50 signatories could not speak for 300-odd students and 23 professors.

Two decades later, we are at a point where gay marriage is celebrated in more and more countries, and “L” is not a swear word. Even the Pope has told his Roman Catholic faithful (and that includes all ye Catholic schools) that it was not upon him to judge gay people. How should a Catholic university then react to its students if they rally today against the judging of lesbians as immoral?

As climax to that moment in history, The FREEMAN ran a wonderful editorial in its April 2002 edition, when Noel Pangilinan was still editor. The FREEMAN sided with the law students, rebuked Justice Aquino, and ended with the insightful note that “this is not a question of heterosexuality or homosexuality. It is a question of justice, and its ability to be served without bias or reservations”.

For that Pride moment, I’m really proud of The FREEMAN.

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